“What is one to make of such a life?” asks William Chafe near the end of his intimate investigation into the peripatetic life of Allard Lowenstein. Chafe’s Lowenstein was a man in perpetual anguish. From his days as a student leader through his single term in Congress in the late 1960’s to his assassination in 1980 by a drug-crazed former protégé, Al Lowenstein was a man tormented by his father (who demanded perfection), by his Jewishness, by his failures to be returned to Congress, and by his increasing sexual confusion: Chafe’s contention is that Al Lowenstein, the complete political animal, was really Al Lowenstein, the incomplete sexual being. Ultimately a loner, the private Lowenstein spent his life avoiding commitments, despite eventually acquiring a wife and children. His was a life of few friends and many followers (most of whom just happened to be young, male, handsome, impressionable, insecure, and WASPish). As his life neared its tragic end, Al Lowenstein, now divorced from his wife and repudiated by his constituents, seems to have been coming to terms with the individual who William Chafe has decided that he was all along: the second phase of his sexually liberated life was about to begin when he was gunned down in Manhattan as he worked to destroy another Democratic President (Jimmy Carter) and elevate another Kennedy (Senator Ted). Was Lowenstein unlucky enough to be murdered just when he had finally transcended his past? Perhaps. Yet while a no-longer-young student leader, circa 1968, might still move a crowd, an aging ex-student leader in the era of Reagan could only have been an embarrassment.


[Never Stop Running: Allard Lowenstein and the Struggle to Save American Liberalism, by William Chafe (New York: Basic Books) 592 pp., $28.00]